The Business Year

Akbar Al Baker

QATAR - Transport

Five-Star Airline

Chief Executive Officer, Qatar Airways


Akbar Al Baker worked at various levels in Qatar’s Civil Aviation Directorate before becoming Qatar Airways’ CEO in 1997. Over the last decade, Mr. Al Baker has spearheaded the growth of Qatar Airways from being a regional airline with four aircraft to a company that presently flies to over 90 destinations worldwide. He is also leading the development of the multi-billion dollar New Doha International Airport, which is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

How has Qatar Airways normalized since the return of the Dreamliner to the skies? It is still not normalized, as the aircraft were grounded for such a long time that […]

How has Qatar Airways normalized since the return of the Dreamliner to the skies?

It is still not normalized, as the aircraft were grounded for such a long time that we had to retrain all of our cabin crew and pilots. Qatar Airways had not been operating the Boeing 787 for a long time before that, meaning the experience level of the crew was such that we could not put them back on board without retraining. It has also caused significant disruption, vis-í -vis our expansion plans, our network, and the planned increase of frequencies to current destinations. In the first month alone, we had to downgrade 2,500 flights, and also delayed four new destinations because of a lack of aircraft. We were also affected by the fact that other 787 deliveries did not take place. There was a huge capacity shortage.

How will Qatar Airways’ new cargo fleet help position it as one of the leading cargo carriers in the Middle East, and internationally?

We want to be a major player in the cargo business. We will have a large fleet of Boeing 777-200 freighters, and we are also looking at a substantial number of feeder aircraft, which will either be the traditional Boeing 777 or Airbus 330 freighters. We are now in the process of taking on one more aircraft, which is being delivered from Seattle in the coming days.

Qatar Airways was a pioneer in being one of the first Gulf airlines to join an alliance. Why was oneworld chosen?

We received an invitation from oneworld, and we accepted it graciously. We fit very well into the oneworld alliance, which provides us with the right type of exposure for expanding our network. We feel that oneworld is the most flexible and most liberal of alliances. We, as part of oneworld, will still be able to codeshare with airlines outside of the alliance, which is not permitted with the other alliances.

What percentage of your passengers use Doha as a hub, and how will the new Hamad International Airport cement Qatar’s role as a hub?

Currently, 70% of our passengers use Doha as a hub. This will decrease as Qatar’s tourist infrastructure develops. Hamad International Airport will be one of the most modern, sophisticated, and passenger-friendly airports in the world. The passenger experience will be second to none. It will offer world-class, duty-free shops, a five-star hotel within the building, and a spa, as well as other facilities. Of interest, Hamad International Airport is the first airport to have been designed by an airline. We will also have the best selection of restaurants, airport lounges, duty-free areas, spas, hotels, and a swimming pool.

What steps is Qatar Airways taking to differentiate itself in an increasingly competitive market?

The answer is simple: we are the only five-star rated airline in the region.

What regions are you specifically focusing on for further expansion of Qatar Airways?

We are interested in all regions of the world. We are set for expansion in the North and South American regions, as well as Africa, the Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Europe.

What are your medium-term strategic plans and goals for Qatar Airways?

My main priority is to get Hamad International Airport up and running. My second is to realize the network expansion that I have in mind over the course of the next three years. And my third priority is to satisfy the economic needs of my country by keeping Qatar Airways at the top of the airline league.

With this large-scale, rapid expansion, and other plans for the future, what is the secret of your success?

The secret is very simple; we are absolutely focused on where we want to be, and everybody works in that direction. Nobody pulls in the opposite direction; everybody follows the same strategy, which comes from the top. When everybody works together in this manner, you can make decisive gains and be successful as a business.



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